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Toyota’s chair is driving with 'L' plates back on



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Corrects third paragraph to state the Tokyo Stock Exchange names companies that comply with their disclosure requirements, not those who failed to comply. The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

By Katrina Hamlin

HONG KONG, June 19 (Reuters Breakingviews) -Akio Toyoda has been dinged for his company's dangerous driving. Some 27% of votes cast at Toyota Motor's 7203.T annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday were against re-electing him as chair following months of scandals; that was roughly double last year’s 14%. It’s a strong rebuke for any board leader, but especially so in traditionally consensus-driven Japan. It effectively slaps "Learner" plates back on Master Driver and former CEO Toyoda, and puts his domestic peers on notice.

The company acknowledged approval rates for Toyoda and his fellow board members at the gathering reflected worries over both corporate governance and quality control. Earlier this month, Toyota revealed problems with its past testing and certification procedures. Although this latest snafu did not result in fears for customers’ safety, they came on top of a series of earlier, more serious lapses at subsidiaries Daihatsu Industries and Hino Motors 7205.T. These had caused Toyoda to reflect that management had lost touch with frontline workers. He also faces criticism over a lack of independent directors on the board, which proxy advisers Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis both cited as cause for concern.

Those missteps have attracted close scrutiny at a time when Japan Inc is under pressure to do better. The Tokyo Stock Exchange is pushing listed companies to disclose plans to enhance shareholder value,naming those that comply with its specific requirements and thereby shaming those that do not. Toyota has been a notable holdout, despite its shortcomings.

The issues, and any attempt to set things right, are especially alarming because they could become a major distraction at a difficult time. Toyota is playing catchup in the race to electrify, partly thanks to Toyoda’s own scepticismabout the trend; in 2023 battery electric vehicles accounted for less than 1% of unit sales. Meanwhile, it is trying to hone an edge in software for connected vehicles. Combined investments of 1.7 trillion yen ($10.8 billion) are expected to slice 20% off its operating profit this financial year, the company said last month.

The shareholders’ warning will resonate throughout Japan. Other companies’ corporate governance scores worse on key metrics, such as the size of their cross-shareholdings. A Goldman Sachs screening in March found 24 large companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Prime Market with strategic holdings accounting for over 20% of their net assets.

For his part, Toyoda needs to show he has learned from past mistakes if he wants to stay atop the $260 billion carmaker.

Follow @KatrinaHamlin on X

CONTEXT NEWS

Toyota Motor’s Chair Akio Toyoda received 72% of votes in favour of his reelection at the company’s annual general meeting on June 18, according to a filing on June 19. That compared to 85% of the vote in 2023, and 96% in 2022.

In In a statement on June 19, the company added that it perceived directors' approval rates at the shareholder meeting as "candid feedback" on issues including "recent certification problems, the independence of the board of directors, and cross-shareholding".


Toyota Chair Akio Toyoda's support is falling https://www.reuters.com/graphics/BRV-BRV/zdpxxnxjmpx/chart.png


Editing by Antony Currie and Aditya Srivastav

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